Friday, February 16, 2018

Keeping Your Heart Open

At Shree we have been using themes from Melody Beattie’s book Journey to the Heart, and for this week her advice is to “Keep your heart open, even when you can’t have what you want.” Not getting what we want is a root cause of most of our suffering. It doesn’t matter if it is that beautiful sweater you saw at the mall that was just a little too pricey, that the grocery store was out of the favorite ingredient you needed to make the perfect Valentine’s dinner, or longing for a few more precious days with a loved one who passed on from this world – our experience of not having is hard.  
Not getting what we want can cause us to shut down our hearts or to open them up. I have recently been re-reading Pema Chodron’s seminal book When Things Fall Apart and she speaks volumes on this topic. She says “Inspiration and wretchedness are inseparable. We always want to get rid of misery rather than see how it can work with joy. Feeling inspired cheers us up, makes us realize how vast and wonderful our world is.  Feeling wretched humbles us. When we are inspired, we are more able to celebrate the sacred in the world.  But feeling wretched ripens our hearts, it opens them up. It makes us more compassionate, more understanding.” I have found this to be so true in my life.  I have a hard time softening my heart, I tend to keep my armor pretty tight. But I’ve seen the most challenging times of my life in the last year or 2 and when I am able to stay awake and aware and not get caught up in my narrative of “how much things suck right now”, I really am able to see how staying open to all of it has helped me to connect more deeply in all my relationships – with my beloveds, with friends, and with God. (Yes, the G word.  If this is a hard word for you, I get it, I’ve been there too.  I’m still there sometimes.  I’ll invite you to just plug in whatever word you use for anything bigger than your own individual self and see if that resonates.)

The crucial point is to keep our hearts open to all of it, through all of it.  Through getting what you want and getting what you don’t. Through joy and heartache. Through celebration and grief. And it’s hard to do it through both I think. I know I’ve been in the midst of some of the happiest times in my life and I get these little pings of sorrow wishing things would last but knowing ultimately that they won’t. When things are good we shut down our hearts in fear of it ending.  When things are challenging we shut down our hearts because it’s hard to be in pain. So, life is hard.  Might as well be open to it, embrace it, engage with it and see what meaning you can make from it.

Ananda is a big buzz word in yoga, and it is part of the Anusara invocation we chant at the start of each class. However, like many things rooted in yoga these days, it tends to be somewhat misunderstood. Most frequently translated as “bliss”, I think we are sometimes misled to the pursuit of the surface feeling of “bliss”.  But rather than being the goal of our practice or what we are striving for, ananda is the state of being immersed completely in your current experience, feeling what there is to feel without fighting it, and the “bliss” is what arises as a result of being in connection with what is. This is the experience Ms. Beattie and Ms. Chodron are both referring to I believe.

Consider this - when you have a good strong workout, or start a new exercise program, what usually happens to your muscles a day or 2 later?  You get sore. Small tears occur in the muscle as a result of mild muscle strain, creating microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. The discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.  When they heal, the muscles become stronger and healthier. 

Our hearts are like this too – sometimes they need to get a little torn up to get stronger, to adapt to a new way of doing things or state of being.  Each time your heart breaks it builds back up a little bigger and a little sturdier. Even the really beautiful moments that swell our hearts with joy and pride and love can cause those little tears by filling up to bursting.  When we keep our hearts open to all experiences, feelings, emotions, challenges and blessings we bring ourselves a little closer to humanity, our own and around us. And that is a beautiful thing. 

Off the mat:
Notice.  Notice your reactions to things, ones that you would label “good”, and ones that you would label “not good”.  See where you feel both experiences in your body.  Notice the thoughts you have about it.  Be aware of how you react.  Just be present with it, allow yourself to feel whatever comes up.  Be open to it all.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we are working on keeping the physical heart open – getting it pumping with some good flowing vinyasa movements, and working with scapula (shoulder blade) retraction and protraction (moving towards the spine and away from the spine) to keep the front and the back of the heart open at the same time.  In gentler classes leading towards Setu Bandhasana (bridge), and in more challenging classes towards Sirsasana II and Bakasana, tick-tocking between the two poses…which requires a lot of strength all around the shoulder girdle, the front and the back, to keep the neck safe.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace: In the form of your inhale and exhale, open to inspiration and wretchedness, to love and despair, to celebration and grief.
Open to breath and to the softness that comes with a broken heart.
Fill with breath and the inspiration that allows you to see the sacred in all things.

Muscular Energy: Engage muscles and engage with however this pose challenges you.
Firm muscles creating stress on the bones that will make them stronger.

Shoulder Alignment: (In various movements, work on) shoulder blade retraction (adduction) and protraction (abduction) - one is not better than other, both necessary, find the balance between the two.
Open the back of the heart (protraction) and the front (retraction) so the heart open 360 around, to all experiences.

Inner Spiral: Widen sit bones and open up to the little tears that make us stronger.

Outer Spiral: Drop your tailbone down settling into what you have, not necessarily what you want, but we stay open anyway.

Organic Energy: Shine out through the little tears and cracks – they let the light in and out.
An open heart radiates gratitude for all experiences, let yours sparkle.
Savor and shine the brilliance and the melancholy of this moment, knowing both have come to serve you.